Philosophy Chapter Notes
Chapter 2 – Utilitarianism
• Rawls believes that in our society utilitarianism operates as a kind of tacit background against which other
theories have to assert and defend themselves.
• Utilitarianism claims that the morally right ac or policy is that which produces the greatest happiness for the
members of society.
• Focus – political morality
• Applies to “the basic structure” of society, not to the personal conduct of individuals.
• Those who reject it – it cannot help but disappear from the landscape
1. Two Attractions
• 2 features making it an attractive theory
o 1. The goal does not depend on the existence of God, or a soul, or any entity.
o 2. Consequentialism the act or policy in question actually does some identifiable good or not.
Ex. Homosexuality, no bad consequences why it is morally wrong.
It prohibits such apparently arbitrate moral prohibitions. It demands of anyone who
condemns something as morally wrong that they show WHO IS WRONGED.
Something is morally good ONLY if it makes someone’s life better off.
It conforms to our intuitions about the difference between morality and other spheres
Provides a method for resolving moral questions – right answer becomes a matter of
measuring changes in human welfare
• It is not about dos and don’ts. It provides a test to ensure that such rules serve a useful function.
• 2 attractions: are that it conforms to our intuition that human wellbeing matter, and to our intuition that moral
rules must be tested for their consequences on human wellbeing.
• Can be broken down into two parts:
o An account of human welfare
o An instruction to maximize utility, so defined giving equal weight to each person utility.
2. Defining utility
• Defined utility in terms of happiness “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”
• At least 4 positions to be taken on this question:
o Welfare hedonism Most influential in utilitarian tradition
The view that the experience or sensation of pleasure is the chief human good
One good which is an end in itself, to which all other goods are means
If we do something for a longer time it must give us more pleasure.
Robert Nozik: Machine that omits pleasure. – feeling nothing but happiness but most
would not volunteer.
• Many people would say that it is a wasted life.
• We will not give up on making ourselves happy in the real world even for
o Nonhedonistic mentalstate utility
We should promote the entire range of valuable mental state.
The experience of writing poetry, the mental state accompanying it, can be rewarding
without being pleasurable.
Concerned with all valuable experiences whatever form they take.
What we want in life is something more than, or other than, the acquisition of any kind of
mental state, any kind of “inner glow” enjoyable or otherwise.
We do not want the EXPERIENCE we want to do the act.
We will not give up on the opportunity to fall in love, etc. just for a guaranteed experience
o Preference satisfaction
Increasing people’s utility means satisfying their preferences, whatever they are.
Satisfy all kinds of preferences equally, for the equate welfare with the satisfaction of
If the first 2 leave too much out the 3 leaves too much in!
Satisfying our preferences does not always contribute to our wellbeing.
When we lack information we make mistakes with the benefits and costs.
Preferences DOES NOT define our good.
Preferences are predictions about our good.
We want to have those things which are Worthing having and our current preferences
reflect our current beliefs about what those worthwhile things are. People want to have or do the things which are worth having or doing and this may be
difference from what they currently prefer to have or do. The first is what matters, not the
Something is made valuable by the fact that lots of people desire it. But that is wrong and
Problem: “adaptive preferences” people who cannot achieve some desired goal
gradually lose their desire for it.
• The “sour grapes” problem. – After trying to get the grapes he decides he
doesn’t want them anymore.
It is hard living with disappointment and so we teach ourselves to persuade oneself that
the goal is not worth having.
o Informed preferences
Aims to satisfying those preferences which are based on full information and correct
judgements, while filtering out those which are mistaken and irrational.
Meaning: we seek to provide those things people have good reason to prefer to really
better their lives.
While this view is unobjectionable – it is extremely vague and difficult to apply or measure.
How do we know what preferences they would have?
How do we weigh certain preferences to others?
Unexperienced preferences should count to determining wellbeing. It really does make
my life worse when my preferences are violated without my knowing it.
Discovering that beliefs are false will alter the point of my activity.
We must accept that our life can get worse even if our conscious experiences are
Plausible in principle but very difficult in practice.
It is impossible to know which act maximizes utility either for a given individual or for
society at large.
Id we have no rational basis for making these judgements, then it Is the entire structure of
prudential reasoning which is at risk
• As a political philosophy requires that we be able to compare utility gains and losses across lives.
• We need to judge whether A’s potential fulfillment outweighs B’s disappointment 3. Maximizing utility
• Consequentialism tells us to be concerned with promoting peoples utility.
• Impossible to meet the needs of everyone’s preferences.
• Preferences may conflict
• WHOSE PERFERENCE SHOULD WE MEET?
• Utilitarian’s say that the right action is the one that maximizes utility.
• Equal amount of utility matter equally, REGARDLESS.
• Trying to maximize utility for the greatest amount of the people.
• Our intentions do not tell us that equal amounts of utility should always have the same weight.
• 2 different accounts in utilitarianism of who the relevant “we” is:
o All of us are obliged to act according to utilitarian principles, even in our personal conduct. (moral)
o It is the major social institutions which are specifically obliged to act according to utilitarian
• 2 different accounts of what it means to “act according to utilitarian principles”
o The agent should decide how to act by consciously making utilitarian calculations, but trying to
assess how different actions would affect the satisfaction of informed preferences (direct)
o The idea of maximizing utility enters only indirectly (if at all) into the agent’s decision making.
Morally right actions are those that maximize utility, but agents are more likely to maximize utility by
following nonutilitarian rules or habits than by following utilitarian reasoning (indirect)
• Problems with utilitarianism as a comprehensive decision procedure. – Morally responsible agent will be “U
agent” – someone who decides how to spend her time and resources by calculating the effects on overall
utility of the various actions available to her.
• If we are Uagents and can calculate which produces the most utility.
• Two main problems – preferences which should not be counted
o Special relationships
Uagents who base their actions on utilitarian calculations assume that each person
stands in the same moral relationship to them
Does not take into account special moral relationships
• Could be under a great obligation to them
• Example: a loan, if someone gives me 10$ they are entitled to 10$ back even if
someone else could use the money. Moral value of an act lies in casual properties of producing desirable sets of affairs.
Counterintuitive – the past circumstances or actions of people can create differential
entitlements or differential deserts to things.
Using the money loaned for something else that receives happiness does this conflict
with our view that morality should be about consequences for human welfare? NO
• For saying I should repay the loan is saying that I have a greater obligation.
Not paying the loan back because it doesn’t maximize utility isn’t right. It is your obligation
to pay back the loan.
To not repay the loan is to ignore the special nature of our obligation to the lender
Being deprived of a promise benefit, a disutility so great that it outweighs the increased
utility achieved by giving the money to someone else.
• Promises create expectations which people depend on.
Fails to recognize special relationships. Ex. If an employee is promised money after a job
and you use it for other utility good, that is not right.
Everyday view says I should pay back the loan even if it doesn’t maximize utility.
Not what a promise is to make a promise is not merely to adopt an ingenious device for
promoting the general wellbring, it is to put oneself in a new relation to one person in
particulara relation which creates a specifically new prima facie durt ro hi,not reducible to
the duty of promoting the general wellbeing of society.
Uagent cannot accommodate the importance of any of our commitments.
Utilitarian’s say we should deem our commitments like being committed to any other
person. – Just like saying I should not be attached to my projects at all.
Said to be alienating in a sense.
If we are to lead our own lives we need room to be free to form our own commitments. –
Uagent stops this.
o Illegitimate preferences
Concern with its demand that each source of utility be given equal weight.
The majority of people may feel a certain way about a different group of people but that
doesn’t mean that is will maximize utility.
• It may lead to discrimination against unpopular minorities
Do not accept the claim to what “rightfully” belongs to others are illegitimate. Issue: which set of rules is utility maximizing?
Everyone is worse off if we adopt a rule to break promises or discriminate against
unpopular groups whenever we think it would maximize utility.
‘Ruleutilitarian’s’ argue we should apply the test of utility to rules, and then perform
whichever act is endorsed by the best rules.
Seems too optimistic to assume that utilitymaximizing rules will always protect the rights
of weak and unpopular minorities.
The wrong is done to the person who should not have suffered from the dislike of others,
and to the boy who had a special claim to the promised money.
The objection was that certain special relationships should be included and certain
illegitimate preferences should be excluded.
• Take precedence over the maximization of utility.
The problem, from the point of view of our everyday morality, is in applying the principle of
Shifting to ruleutilitarianism may change the outcome of the utility calculations, but it does
not change the inputs into the calculations
Focusing on rules rather than acts may make it less likely for illegitimate preferences to
win the day.
Evil acts may be wrong but seems right if the pleasure is shared with not just one person.
Ruleutilitarian’s believe the more people who watch it the less evil it is
Everyday view believes the more people that watch it the more evil it becomes because
more people are enjoying it
In short, we should be nonutilitarian’s in our moral reasoning
• But doesn’t mean utilitarianism is wrong. In fact if people believe in promises and
special relationships that will maximize utility in the long run.
o Utilitarianism is essentially a ‘standard of rightness; not a ‘decision procedure’
o The right act is one that maximizes utility not necessary we have to go out and try to find that
o Argued that we should be indirect utilitarian’s – who do not in fact employ utilitarian decision
making to our everyday life
o Taken to extreme it could be selfdefeating – its own elimination f peoples thoughts and beliefs. o Less extreme: “government house” utilitarianism – a small elite would know that utilitarianism was
the right moral theory and they would employ utilitarian decisions procedures to design utility
maximizing institutions. (The rest of population would not be taught what utilitarianism is.)
4. Two arguments for utility maximization
• Equal consideration of interests
o Is a standard for aggregating individual interests and desires?
o We all have different preferences and we need to see which tradeoffs are fair to the people and
are morally acceptable.
o Each people is counted as an equal and so their preferences should be accounted for as equals.
o Give equal weight to a person’s preference, regardless of the content.
o “we count everyone for one, no one for more than one”
o First argument is:
People matter and matter equally; therefore
Each person’s interests should be given equal weight; therefore
Morally right acts will maximize utility
• Teleological utilitarianism
o Maximizing the good is primary, not derivative and we count individuals equally ONLY because that
is the way to maximize value.
o Bring about valuable states of affairs
o Not concerned with persons, but with states of affairs
o “teleological” theory which means that the right act is defined in terms of maximizing the good,
rather than in terms of equal consideration for individuals
o Doubling the population will maximize utility.
o Compare 2 worlds:
A – our world, containing 5 billion people each whom has an average utility of 18 units
B Containing 100 billion, each whose wellbring has been reduced by one unity, people’s
life becomes miserable BUT their overall utility comes from 90 to 100 billion units.
o The duty is to maximize value to bring about valuable states of affairs, even if the effect is to make
all existing persons worse off than they otherwise would have been.
• The first – defines the right in terms of treating people as equals and leads the utilitarian aggregation
standards which happens to maximize the good • The second defines the right in terms of maximizing the good, which leads to the utilitarian aggregation
standard, which as a mere consequence treats peoples interests equally.
5. Inadequate Conception of Equality
• While it may have unequal effects on people, it can nonetheless claim to be motivated by a concern for
treating people as equals.
• While it seeks to treat people as equals, it violates many of our intuitions about what it genuinely means to
treat people with equal consideration
• It has misinterpreted the ideal of equal consideration for each person’s interests, it allows people to be
treated as less equal as a means to others peoples ends
• External preferences
o Personal and external preferences
o Personal preferences – the goods, resources, and opportunities, etc., one wants available to
o External preferences – concerns the good, resources and opportunities one wants available to
o It can be very prejudice some people could want others to be discriminated and that is not right.
o What I own depends on what others think of me.
• Selfish preferences
o The desire for more than one’s own fair share of resources.
o They ignore the fact that other people need the resources and have legitimate claims to them.
o Irrational and uninformed
o Deny a thing such as fair share independently of utilitarian calculations
o Hare believes all rational preferences should be included in utility aggregation, even those that
o We must put ourselves in other people’s shoes and try to imagine how our actions affect them.
If we do that we will put “me” in the best situation
o People who lack resources will get more utility out of each additional resources than those who
already have many resources.
Chapter 3 – Liberal Equality
1. Rawls’s Project
• Intuitionism and utilitarianism o If we are to treat people as equals, we must protect them in their possession of certain rights and
liberties. But which rights and liberties?
o Tried to find an alternative to utilitarianism
o Political theory was caught on two extremes: utilitarianism, and incoherent jumble of ideas and
o “intuitionism – an approach which is little more than a series of anecdotes based on particular intuitions
about particular issues
o Never goes beyond or underneath these initial intuitions to show how they are related
o Intuitionist theories having 2 features:
1 they consist of a plurality of first principles which may conflict to give contrary directives in
particular types of cases
2 they include no explicit method, no priority rules for weighting these principles against one
another: we are simply to arrive a balance by intuition.
o Common sense intuitionism – form of group’s rather specific precepts, each group applying to a
particular problem of justice.
o Common for people to talk about intuitively balancing equality and liberty.
o Try to establish some priority amongst these conflicting precepts.
o Task: to develop a political theory that structures our different intuitions
o His theory demonstrates the field, not in agreement, but many theories were based on opposing his
• The principles of justice
o His general conception of justice consists of one central idea: all social primary goods liberty and
opportunity, income and wealth and basic selfrespect are to be distributed equally unless an unequal
distribution of any or all of these goods is to the advantage of the least favoured
o We treat people as equals by only removing inequalities that disadvantage someone.
o If inequalities brings out something useful in people then it will benefit society.
o They’re allowed if they improve my initial equality but not if it invades my fair share.
Giving less well off a kind of veto over inequalities
o The various goods may conflict
Might be able to increase income by depriving them of certain liberties o We need a system of priority amongst the different elements in the theory.
o Broken down into 3 parts
First principle each person is to have an equal right to the most extensive total system of
equal basic liberties compatible with a similar system of liberty for all.
Second principle social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are both:
• To the greatest benefit of the least advantaged and,
• Attached to offices and positions open to all under conditions of fair equality of
o First priority rule (the priority of liberty) liberty can be restricted only for the sake of liberty.
o Second priority rule (the priority of justice over efficacy and welfare) – lexically prior to the principle of
efficacy and to that of maximizing the sum of advantages; and fair opportunity is prior to the difference
o These principles form “special conception” – seek to provide the state matic guidance that intuitionism
could not give us.
o Equal liberty take precedence
o Simple idea remains – an inequality is only allowed if it benefits the least well off
“Difference principle” – governing the distribution of economic resources.
One to contrast his theory with what he takes to be the prevailing ideology concerning justice
– the ideal of equality of opportunity
Two – principles of justice are superior because they are the outcome of a hypothetical social
2. The intuitive equality of opportunity argument
• You can pay someone a lot more than the national average, if there was a fair equal opportunity If no one
was disadvantaged by their race or sex or background
• Such inequality is whether or not the least well off people benefit from that inequality
• He denies that people who fill the positions are thereby entitled to a greater share of society’s resources.
• The less welloff have no veto over these inequalities and no right to expect to benefit from them.
• Seen in our society as ok because it is based on peoples choices rather than circumstances
• Success or failure will result on that persons choices
• People disagree what is needed to insure equality o Nondiscrimination in education and employment
o Affirmative action programmes are required
• Central idea: it is fair for individuals to have unequal shares of social goods id those product of the
individual’s actions and choices.
• Social inequalities are undeserved and one’s fate should not be made worse
• But also applies to inequality of natural talents.
• Natural talents and social circumstances are both matters of brute luck, peoples moral claims should not
depend of brute luck.
• Prevailing view suggests that removing social inequalities five each person an equal opportunity to acquire
o Suggesting that difference in income is EARNED
o People’s fate should be determined by their choices not by circumstances.
o Only notices difference in social circumstances NOT natural talent
• How to treat differences in natural talents? Do not make them give up their talent but allow them to use it to
benefit the people in need.
3. The social contract argument
• An argument about what sort of political morality people would choose were they setting up society from an
• Why social contract theories seem weak? Because they seem to rely on very implausible assumptions
• They ask to imagine a state of nature before there is any political authority.
• No higher authority
• Once we know the contract, we know what the government is executed to do and what we are.
• Different theorists have used this technique and come up with different answers but the same criticism
o There never was such a state of nature, or such a contract.
• A contract is one we agree to and this contract is just a hypothetical one.
• Social contract seem :
o Historically absurd ( if it is based on actual agreement)
o Morally insignificant (if it is based on hypothetical agreement)
• Dworkin: think of the contract as a device for teasing out the implications of certain moral premises concerning
people’s moral equality. • Part of the idea of being moral equals: we are born free and not subordinate to the will of others.
• Many theorists opposed this example “man is born free and yet everywhere if in chains”
• Liberals said this about moral equality being governed by the government:
o That if the government betrayed the trust of the citizens then the citizens would no longer be under
obligation to obey.
• The point of the contract is to determine principles of justice from a position of equality :
o Original position of equality corresponds to the idea of state of nature in the traditional theory of social
o It is understood purely hypothetical situation characterized so as to lead to a certain conception of
• Also differs from it : believes that the usual sate of nature is not really an initial position of equality
• The usual account of state of nature is not fair because people have more power to bargain in than others and
they are able to hold out longer for a better deal.
o While those who are less strong have to make concessions.
• This is why Rawls develops the ‘original position’ – people are behind a ‘veil of ignorance’ so that no one knows
his place in society, his class position or social status, nor does anyone know his fortune.
o Insures that no one is advantaged or disadvantaged
• It is an intuitive test of fairness
• Original position is intended to ‘r